Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Height: 6’1” Weight: 242
Willis capped an outstanding college career by winning the 2006 Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker and starred in the Senior Bowl, where he was coached by the 49ers’ staff. San Francisco in turn chose him in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft (11th overall) with the hope that he would be able to compete for a starting job in a rebuilding defense. With his great speed and range, combined with the tutelage of assistant coach Mike Singletary, he became a starting inside linebacker and an immediate star at the position.
2007 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]
Sacks – 4
Most sacks, game – 2 vs. Tampa Bay 12/23
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 2
Tackles – 137
Assists – 37
Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
49ers went 5-11 to finish third in the NFC West.
Willis was credited with another 141 tackles (109 solo, 32 assists) in 2008 and was again selected to the Pro Bowl. From 2009 through 2012 he was a consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl selection each year, even though injuries caused him to miss three games in 2011. By that point, he was a key component of a solid defensive unit and, while his tackles dropped, Willis was more of a factor in pass coverage. Overall, through his first six seasons he had intercepted 7 passes, recorded 17.5 sacks, forced 14 fumbles, and been in on 819 tackles.
Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year).